From a tourist map, the island of Penang looks somewhat like a mink's pelt. Georgetown, its capital, sits roughly on the right arm of the skin, while the Muka Head Lighthouse would be on the left arm. Somewhere near the head lies a cluster of good beaches that have helped Penang develop a reputation as a resort destination. Penang Hill sits at the center, or heart, while the figurative legs are hosts to the international airport and the Batu Maung Fishing Village . Across the straits, Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley), the other territorial half of the State of Penang, is linked to Georgetown by ferry and the Fort Cornwallis marks the spot where Captain Francis Light first set foot on Penang on July 16, 1786. The hastily built wooden fort was later reinforced by convict labor. At the time no one predicted that a history gallery and a souvenir shop within the fort would become as well known as the Seri Rambai Cannon that was once salvaged from the sea. Echos of colonialism are found in the Town Hall and City Hall . The Padang Kota Lama , where many important local events are held, was once training grounds for British imperial soldiers. The eccentric Clock Tower along Lebuh Light at Lebuh Pantai was constructed in honor of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee by a Straits Chinese British subject. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion marks the legacy of another wealthy Chinese resident of Penang, but one of a very different nature. A masterpiece of architecture and eccentricity is on display at the Malayan Railway Building , which hosts no nearby railway.
Lebuh Pantai—Central Business District
More colonial legacies line one of Penang's oldest streets, Lebuh Pantai. It is the center of a modern business district congested with a milieu traders and travelers. Along the waterfront is the Frank Swettenham Pier , terminus for the bright yellow ferries that connect Georgetown with Butterworth. Nearby Kampung Ayer , a neighborhood on stilts, was convincingly employed for the filming of Anna and the King as the setting of a 19th century dock in Siam. Wandering further into Weld Quay with its pre-crane docking warehouses and colorful waterfront may have you feeling like you stepped back in time.
Chinatown and KOMTAR
When viewed from the top of KOMTAR , Chinatown looks like a colorful fabric of russet roofs and crusted stuccos. Godowns, ancient looking warehouses along the waterfront, and two-story shutter-fronted shophouses, are ubiquitous through Chinatown and an important part of Penang's architectural makeup. Here you will find as many community establishments as you will shops, and some that serve as both, such as Eu Yan Sang traditional Chinese medicine shop. The Carpenters' Guild acted as a newcomer association for Chinese carpenters and the Khoo Kongsi and Har Yang Sit Teik Tong Yeoh Kongsi a re just two examples of clan associations where members of the Chinese community could find support and society. Traditional temples also make their home in Chinatown, from Hainan Temple , dedicated to the protector of seafarers, to the Chung Keng Kooi Temple , whose origins are in the darker side of Hakka secret societies. If Penang is a destination for gourmands, Chinatown is one reason why. Institutions such as Goh Thow Chick Cafe have brought the art of serving Malay chicken rice to the level of art.
Pitt Street—Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling
Within the borders of Georgetown lie several notable religious monuments of diverse faiths. Pitt Street may have been renamed Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, but the town p lanners' idea of a "street of harmony" remains. For more than a century, through good and bad times, the Taoist Goddess of Mercy Temple , the Hindu Maha Mariamman Temple , the Muslim Kapitan Keling Mosque and the Acheen Street Mosque have been close neighbors.
Little India, Gurney Drive and the Suburbs
Indian and Chetty moneychangers, Singhalese silverware and lace vendors, and the "Bombay merchants" make up an interesting corner of town. They present an experience of sights, smells and sounds straddling a few streets around Lebuh Pasar, commonly called Little India , w here saris, garlands, trinkets, sculptures, Indian music and curries abound.
West of Jalan Penang hides an enclave of stylish mansions — Millionaire's Row . Gurney Drive used to be a great place to swim, but is now the product of land reclamation, condominium development and cafes. In the evening it is also the setting for clandestine bike racing. Jalan Burma in Pulau Tikus hosts a lively wine-and-dine scene including destinations such as Club Mixx .
History and culture rule everywhere you turn in Penang. St George's Anglican Church , the Penang Museum and the Heritage Centre at Syed Alatas Mansion offer reminders of the past. The active Penang Heritage Trust has done a commendable job of preserving the details of Penang's history and spreads the wealth of its information through its heritage walk and special talks.
Northern Beaches and Batu Ferringhi
Batu Ferringhi's three-kilometer (1.9 mile) beachfront is packed cheek-in-jowl with world-class hotels and eateries along with a nocturnal clutch of trinket stalls, tailors, street hawkers and rowdy bars. Several other beaches of the North Coast such as Teluk Bahang Beach , Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach, Pantai Kerachut and Pantai Mas prove progressively less crowded and more pristine as you head west.
Penang Hill and Air Itam--Precious Patches of Green
A series of hills rise up towards the island's centre and the highest of these, Penang Hill , is 821 meters (2700 feet) above sea level. In its foothills lie the Botanical Gardens and the Air Itam Dam. The Kek Lok Si Temple provides an imposing spectacle when approaching the Air Itam district from downtown, befitting its name "Million Buddhas Precious Pagoda".
Seberang Perai—Rapid Urbanisation
Across the Penang Straits lies, Penang Bird Park , Snow Land , and the Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest . These areas house several mega shopping malls and rumbling industrial parks.
"At any given time, one half of Penang is cooking for the other half to eat." This may be extending the truth just a little bit, but it reveals a hint of just how often people come to Penang specifically for the food. The island hosts numerous unforgettable dining experiences and travelers never suffer disappointment. Just ask someone in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore who regularly travels to the island why it is cheekily called the “Palate of the Orient”. To everyone's delight, the drinking and pubbing scene is shaping up very nicely too.
The best selection of restaurants is found in Georgetown's historic center, with a variety of flavors, price range and ambience matched only in some of the world's biggest international cities. As is true in other parts of Asia, a dingy exterior and basic interior of plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting does not necessarily mean lousy food, it means that the proprietor, like his customers, may put all attention and resources into the food and not the ambience. Likewise, pushcart restaurants can serve up surprisingly delicious and incredibly cheap local snacks and quick meals, the additional novelty of slurping soup at the side of the road at no extra charge. However, if you prefer your meals in a relaxed and fully furnished atmosphere, Penang's restaurant selection will not disappoint.
Chinatown and Little India carry their weight in restaurant selection. Many shophouses serve up Nonya or Straits Chinese cuisine that is full of flavor and fresh ingredients. Likewise, South Indian favorites dominate, so get your fill of idli and dosa from the hands of experts. Goh Swee Kee Teochew Restaurant gained fame for its authentic Teochew or Cantonese cuisine. If you are not feeling adventurous, look for familiar items such as kong pao on the menu. If you want to try something you've never had before, the wait staff will enthusiastically lend a hand in your selection. Meanwhile, De Tai Tong Cafe is a classic dim sum teahouse. Along Chulia Street, the Secret Garden supplies local fare with a mix of continental comfort foods. Dragon King serves old school Chinese favorites in an atmosphere that is equally old school. Colonial Restaurant on Armenian Street serves Hainanese specialties, a particularly tropical variation of South China cuisine. Also on Chulia Street, Rainforest Restaurant is a backpacker's haven of American and Mexican comfort food. In the evening enjoy the lights along Jalan Nagore and head towards Nonya Corner . Ever tried steamboat? This Straits variation of popular hot pot is a delicious choice at Goh Huat Seng Restaurant . Ang Hoay Lor has excellent Hokkien cuisine in a convenient location. Kris Dinner's Corner has an eccentric name and menu plus the especially wonderful habit of being open all night. For another specialty head over to Queen Street and the Dawood Restaurant , which has been in the family for three generations. Also in Little India is the Komala Vilas Banana Leaf Restaurant , where banana leaves are used as plates! Soho Free House serves pub grub and beer, including hard-to-find stout, on Jalan Penang.
Leith Street has a special selection of excellent fine dining options near the waterfront. Jaipur Court is rumored to be the best Northern Indian restaurant in Penang. The atmospheric 20 Leith Street serves Japanese cuisine at the bar or on the terrace and is very popular. Restaurant Warisan has traditional Malay food served in a quirky setting. Monsoon Jazz Bar & Thai Restorant is an excellent late dining spot with outdoor seating and live music.
Within the Temple of Arts is a unique dining experience and traditional vegetarian menu at Annalakshmi . The buffet at The Cafe has themes that include Japanese sushi as well as English high tea. Try not to miss the fresh seafood options at Err…Oyster Bar .
Just one block up from Gurney Drive along Jalan Burma are some exciting dining and drinking options. The Hot Wok Nonya Restaurant serves Nonya cuisine in beautiful spot. The critically acclaimed Midlands Court has traditional Chinese meals created with great care. Angel Steamboat Restaurant has proved popular with both locals and visitors. If you are interested in some late night people watching, grab an outdoor table at Coffee Hut . Fine Italian dining can be had at Ristorante Bella Italia .
The fresh dishes at Restoran Sushi are satisfying and well priced. Although there is no train in Penang, the Victoria Station Restaurant specializes in English style high service, all inside a refurbished dining car. It is especially recommended for afternoon tea. The easy going Vinatge Cellars provides atmosphere, a wine bar, cheese board, and pool table along with comfortable leather seats.
The selection outside of Georgetown may not be as varied, but satisfying choices are still abundant.
Passage Thru India features a dramatic setting, traditional Indian cuisine and live performances. Try to distinguish individual flavors in the award winning secret sauce at Coca Thai Restaurant .
Taj Restaurant has excellent curried rice on its traditional Indian menu. Enjoy a tatami room at Akebono . Or for a more relaxed dining experience how about a beer at the Chovelet Banana Garden and knick knack shop? The elegant Sommeliers Restaurant & Bistro is a cosmopolitan bistro, cigar and wine bar. Lovingly prepared Italian cuisine awaits at La Farfalla .
Along Batu Ferringhi there are plenty of restaurants deserving of attention, but the Eden Sidewalk Cafe with its Thai menu and al fresco dining along beach makes an excellent choice.